Listening is a very important part of conversation. Yet, if we are honest, most of us would admit to needing to sharpen our listening skills. Listening well means we not only hear what the other is saying, but striving for understanding. Paying close attention to conversation means listening carefully and not being distracted by what is going on around you. It also means quieting your own internal dialogue. When a person perceives that you are engaged in what they are saying, they more quickly respond to your comments and suggestions. In fact, listening well is the first step in being heard.
When a person speaks to you, look directly at them and engage their eyes. Listen carefully and empathetically. Try to pull the meaning out of their attempt to communicate with you. If you are having difficulty understanding the message, ask questions of the speaker. On occasion, paraphrase the other’s statements to ensure your understanding. Don’t engage in your own internal conversation, prepare counter-arguments or think of what you want to say. Pause for a moment after the speaker finishes before speaking yourself to digest their meaning and to formulate your own response. Your conversation partner will appreciate this type of thoughtful listening.
If you look away, continue to respond to them with nods of your head so they know you are listening. Try not to glace away at others, a sure sign of distractions. Smile and use facial body language to demonstrate you are listening.
Strive for empathy. For the time period you are listening, try to turn off your own judgments, evaluations and commentary. Just listen. Your personal feelings can distort what you hear. Try instead to understand where the speaker is in their own understanding of the issue. Reflect back to the speaker your empathy, not your judgment. Avoid “one-upping” the speaker. If they tell you about a recent cruise they were on, don’t immediately respond with a story about your stay at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok. Instead, appreciate what you are being told as an experience of the speaker. Let the speaker have the opportunity to express themselves without competition. Remember that empathy does not mean “you know just how they feel.” That is sympathy. Empathy is an appreciation for how the other feels – reflect back to them your understanding of their experience.
Good communicators most often listen more than they speak. Develop the ability to listen well and your clients will view you as an excellent conversationalist.
Want to learn more about empathy? You may find this site of interest: http://cultureofempathy.com